The death toll from the second earthquake to hit eastern Turkey in about two weeks rose to 19 as several rescue teams clawed through heaps of concrete to search for two journalists believed trapped in the rubble of a collapsed hotel.
Colleagues of the two reporters from Turkey's Dogan news agency were among dozens of people anxiously waiting for news outside the wreckage of the Bayram Hotel, one of the two hotels that fell apart when the 5.7-magnitude quake hit the eastern city of Van late on Wednesday.
"In our profession we always come across disasters," Dogan agency's general manager, Ugur Cebeci, told The Associated Press as he watched rescuers in red overalls search through the debris of the once five-story hotel. "But we are grappling with helplessness here."
Journalists and relief workers — who had rushed to the region in the aftermath of a more powerful earthquake that hit the region on 23 October — themselves became victims when the hotel, weakened by the earlier temblor, collapsed on Wednesday. The fatalities include a Japanese relief worker who had come to distribute aid to quake survivors.
It was not known today how many people remained buried in the rubble of the two collapsed hotels.
"We are not able to hear any voices," said Disaster management official Askit Dayi. "But still we are removing layers of concrete in a way as if there are survivors." He said the search efforts at both sites could end by midnight.
Recep Salci of the rescue group Akut told NTV television that freezing temperatures at night were also posing a threat to any possible survivors.
Rescue teams were using an emergency evacuation plan to determine possible escape routes within the pancaked building, said Bulent Gunduz of the Siemens private rescue team. "We can see all escape routes and fire stairs," said Gunduz. "The emergency floor plan has become like a compass for us."
Angry residents protested in Van, accusing authorities of failing to properly inspect the buildings following the 23 October quake that killed more than 600 people. Police responded with pepper spray.
Those protests spread to national TV when one anchorman, Mustafa Yenigun of Flash TV, covered his mouth with a black tape yesterday evening as he held a banner that read: "people are under the rubble because of uncompleted tasks" — a reference to the failure to fully inspect damaged buildings.
Rescue worker Ramazan Demiregen said the steel rods in the columns of the collapsed Bayram Hotel were too thin.
Turks paid tribute to the dead Japanese aid worker, Atsushi Miyazaki, calling him a benefactor on Twitter and lamenting that he died in a relatively weak earthquake compared to the massive one and tsunami that devastated Japan in March.
President Abdullah Gul sent a message of condolence to Japan's Emperor Akihito, saying Miyazaki and an injured colleague would be remembered with gratitude by the Turkish people.
"His name is Atsushi, his surname is human," wrote Ertugrul Ozkok, a columnist for Hurriyet newspaper today. "A great Samurai."
Miyazaki had helped distribute meat to quake survivors in Van province during Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice. Other Japanese workers said they were thankful for Turkey's aid workers who came to help Japan in March, local media reported.
Miyazaki's 32-year-old female colleague, Miyuki Konnai, was rescued alive from the wreckage and was in stable condition.